Friday, August 9, 2013

Eso’s Chronicles 200/ 1
An Autoholograph (1)
© Eso A.B.

I was born in Latvia in July of 1933, which was two months after control of the failing state was taken over by a patriot who was willing to risk his life to save it from self-destruction by politicians hypnotized by the rights of politicians to absolute human rights. This is to say, politicians who, dumbed down by post Enlightenment illusions and encouragement of capitalist economics, had little or no regard for the people of Latvia as a community that had survived for many thousand years.

It was a time when the state of Latvia had just survived falling apart, because its sole ‘authority’ figure, the first President, Jānis Časkte,  died five years earlier (1927) at the premature age of 68. When I was old enough to comprehend something of politics, I heard some wag tell that if the man had not died that early in years, he would have become my godfather. As it is, my godfather became his son, who was a judge at the Latvian High Court.

The Ariadne’s string for this connection derives, briefly, from the fact that my paternal grandfather, a descendant of Herrnhuters, a religious offshoot of the 14-15th century Jan Hus movement (especially concerned with the education of common man) which came to Latvia to rebuild a society destroyed by the consequences of the Great Northern War (1700-1721). At the time these forebears came to Latvia, much of Europe was still under the rule of the Habsburg Empire, which made many of the lands rather interactive with their Germanic overlords. Not surprisingly, an analysis of my dna indicates that my great-forebears 5 generations removed came from the area of Herzogovina, an area once known for its religious hereticism and as home of an ancient Christian Church the members of which were known as Bogomils and Cathars.

The Herrnhuter method of reintegrating a destabilized and decimated society was to bring it together by integrating themselves within that society, then bringing everyone together by song and forming choirs. Education and preaching was another method. Dabbling in the mysteries of the Kabala was not excluded. In any case, my grandfather was a teacher, a choir master, and a moralist in that no one was allowed to speak ill of another person at the dinner table. When the Herrnhuter Church was repressed by the Latvian Lutheran Church (during the process of taking over the leadership of the Lutheran Church from its earlier German preachers), my great-grandfather Janis Benjamins lost his inn to a fire (said to have been caused by his wife, but more likely maliciously torched), and himself suffered shock and soon died. My grandfather, at the time still not yet ten years old, and his sister were left in their mother’s charge, who earned her keep as a common farm worker.

As he grew older and proved an earnest student, the German baron (whose manager Jānis Benjamins had been) helped grandfather to get his higher education at a then well-known country school, known as Cimzes Seminars. Grandfather went on to become a teacher, a choir master, married, had five children, and became a school director. However, his Herrnhuter background and Herrnhuter orientation kept him from being fully accepted in the by now recovered Latvian society, which though not denying him, kept him (probably with his irked yet tacit agreement) at arms length. When the burden of his ambitions, social blocks (imagined or real), and economic situation became too unbearable, grandfather chose to make a willful and radical step: he left his wife and five children, and went to the capital of then yet Germanic, Riga, where he became editor at a number of newspapers, finally founding his own. He was helped in the founding of the newspaper by a young woman then working for a German newspaper. Because grandfather had suffered bankruptcy in a hardware business that he had attempted, and bankruptcy laws of the day were of a punishing nature, the young woman became the publisher of the newspaper. It is rumored that as the new couple left the employ of the German newspaper, they took with them its subscriber list.

Through an editorially supportive position for Latvians as a community (after WW1 the newspaper published ‘free’ ads for refugees looking for their dispersed relatives, had many Latvian former Herrnhuters as editors, and greatly furthered literacy among the Latvian people by publishing popular novels) and fortunate turns, the newspaper “Jaunākās Ziņas” (Latest News) became very profitable and made grandfather (editor-in-chief) and his partner one of Latvia’s first millionaires. In its heydays, the newspaper was a de facto bond for Latvians: though its maximum circulation (weekends) reached only two hundred thousand, the newspaper was read by up to five people, which brought to it virtually every Latvian.

Nevertheless, the long-term destructive forces borne of Enlightenment (and hope that Reason was reasonable) and Capitalism were continuing with their destruction of society out of sight, so to say.

‘Reason’ had dictated the founders of the Latvian state to trust that ‘reason’ would dictate every man and woman to come to basically the same reasonable conclusions. It did not. Instead, reason led to war, and war led to near absolute self-isolation of individuals and disregard of community interests.

The disintegration of the community became first visible in politics and gradually filtered itself to the community. Ulmanis, a politician, with his roots in the war for independence and military contacts, organized a successful coup and prevented the nation from disintegrating and dividing itself between the haves and have-nots. Ulmanis economic policies extended the base of the haves. His interest in the culture of folklore united Latvians in a culture that was based more on the culture prevalent in the countryside than it being overrun by urbanism.

Whether grandfather sympathized with the Ulmanis Regime, I do not know, except that the newspaper had to toe the line delineated by the State Information Minister. As for his wife, Emiliya, she took great pleasure in dressing for and playing the role of the First Lady to a President who was an unmarried single man.

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